Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jillian Michaels' Fitness Ultimatum could use a little less drama

I was a little skeptical about the new "Jillian Michaels Fitness Ultimatum 2011" video game for the Nintendo Wii before I tried it.

When, I looked on the back of the box cover, I read that this was not your standard-fare exercise video game with a virtual celebrity coach pushing you through a routine. This game is built around a story line.

Call it an exercise role player.

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to become a super spy who tries to help Jillian destroy one evil corporation that pushes processed food to the public and another one that makes what sounds a lot like soda to me.

You begin by training for your missions. The stretching stuff is good. It felt pretty good. If you have a balance board, you can use it a lot here and it will help track stats. Using those, you can set up workout routines for the week.

As with most of these exercise games, you have an on-screen avatar (that also holds a Wii-Mote). This helps you do the exercises properly during training. The remote will turn yellow (caution) or red (stop and do it better) when you do the exercises incorrectly. Do them properly, and it's green. That's a neat way to stay on cue.

So after you've completed enough training, you can begin your "mission" and try to stop a company that makes processed food that makes people sick, and then makes medicine to make them feel better (sound familiar?). I was fine with this game until I got to the Mission Mode. There's nothing wrong with the exercises really, and there are enough variations to give a pretty decent workout to the general population.

But there are problems trying to make exercises fit into an RPG (role-playing game). Why do you have to do jumping jacks to make a door pop open? And we could've used a little on-screen help, like the training avatar, to know how to do some of the movements required during the mission - and to know at which pace to perform them.

There are nine missions plus one "ultimate mission." You have to do 20 minutes or so of exercise in each one, to allow your on-screen character to accomplish goals. And you can't skip to the next mission unless you complete your current one.

However, the game could provide a little help in what you're supposed to accomplish. And I got a little upset that as I got halfway through a mission and didn't perform an exercise properly, Jillian would send me back to training and I had to start the whole process over again.

There are a lot of exercise video games on the market, and I think many of them can help you get into a little better shape. I wouldn't rely on them solely.

I think that "Fitness Ultimatum 2011" is trying to go about it a different way, with the story mode, and with a little tweaking here and there - and a little more instruction in the Mission Mode itself - the next version could be the hit D3 Publishing hopes it to be.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A half-size iPhone on the way?

When the Wall Street Journal reports Apple rumors, it seems they always come true, so keep this one in mind:
The WSJ says Apple is readying an iPhone nearly "half the size" of the current models that will have an edge-to-edge touchscreen and could be free with a two-year commitment.

That iPhone Nano as some call it would sell alongside the new iPhone 5 this summer.

Sources told the WSJ that the new iPhone is significantly lighter than the current model. Again, this smaller iPhone would go for sale alongside the a revamped more traditionally sized iPhone 5 this summer.

Now a comment on the half-size thing. Can't see that. I think you can remove the top and bottom parts of the phone and leave a narrow strip around the screen and make the phone significantly smaller but with the same screen real estate. You could also enlarge the screen up and down and add a narrow strip and enlarge the screen, especially when held vertically.

Either scenario would keep the current form factor.

Friday, February 11, 2011

AT&T offers unlimited mobile to mobile calling in US

Perhaps in response to Verizon's new Apple toy, AT&T has launched unlimited mobile to mobile calling and texting, on any cell network.

So you can call your Verizon or Sprint or T-Mobile or Cricket friends and have it not count against your plan minutes.

Sprint has offered a similar plan for some time now.

The feature, on AT&T, is included for customers with unlimited messaging plans ($20 for individuals; $30 for families) who subscribe to $39.99 and higher Nation individual plans or $69.99 and higher Family Talk plans.

Current customers can change their accounts online or by calling a rep. New customers have to request the option when signing up.

Happy chattin'.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

TW Cables launches "Whole Home" DVR in Charlotte

For an additional $19.99 per month, plus equipment fees, local Time Warner Cable customers can sign up for TWC's new Whole House DVR.

With Whole Home DVR, customers can watch programming recorded in one room while in another room, so long as it is properly equipped. This way, you can start watching, say, "American Idol," in the downstairs family room, and finish in the master bedrooom.

Whole House was previously offered in TWC's "Signature Home" bundle of phone, ultra high speed internet and Whole Home DVR/TV service.

With whole home, DVRs are networked together with traditional set top boxes. Satellite provider DirecTV and AT&T U-Verse also offer similar features.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

iPad 3 to come this fall? And HP's killer new touch tablet

We haven't seen iPad 2 yet, but folks are expecting it in a few weeks, and the Wall Street Journal has reported that the new iPad is already in production. The WSJ says it's thinner, lighter and has at least a front-facing camera for videochat.

But today's rumors -- on the heels of a killer debut of a new HP tablet -- has Apple dropping a new iPad version, version 3, this fall.

There are also rumors that Apple will introduce a new Verizon iPhone 5 in June and a whole lot of Verizon customers are about to sign new two-year deals on iPhone 4 tomorrow. Maybe there will be some type of upgrade program, but I can see where Apple is making the moves it's rumored to be making.

A host of tablets, many running Android, are due out in the coming months, and right now iPad is released in spring. If you're thinking of buying an iPad as a Christmas gift, you may think twice knowing a new one is coming out just a few months after Santa. And I could see two releases per year, too, in order to better deal with all the new Android offerings that are released every month or so.

Will any of this happen? I don't know.

I do know the new HP Touch Pad, which looks a lot like iPad, is awful impressive. It's got the same 9.7 inch screen as iPad, plus a front 1.3 megapixel camera and a super fast 1.2 gigahertz processor. Screen resolution is a neat 1024x768.

It also runs Flash, unlike iPad. You can charge it wirelessly on the dock. And you can start an email by simply typing on the screen. You don't even have to launch an app.

It's an impressive package and the WebOS operating system it uses is a proven winner, too. This looks like a Super Tablet. We'll find out this summer.

WSJ: new "thinner, lighter" iPad in production, coming to Verizon & AT&T

The Wall Street Journal reports that iPad 2 is in production now and will be thinner and lighter than the current model.

Sources tell the WSJ that the new iPad will have at least one camera for videoconferencing and will be available for Verizon and AT&T but not Sprint or T-Mobile (which may not bode well for a new iPhone to appear on T-Mobile or Sprint, either).

Since the first iPad was released last April, nearly 15 million have been sold. In Apple's December quarter, the tablet accounted for $4.6 billion in sales. Analysts believe Apple could sell between 25 and 35 million iPads in 2011 when the new device debuts this spring.

Verizon iPhone goes live Thursday

N.C. Verizon stores will open at 7 a.m. Thursday as the company officially begins selling Apple's iPhone in its stores. Stores will allow customers to line up as early as 5 a.m. Thursday

Existing Verizon customers were able to pre-order last week online and some have already received their phones, including some locally who have reached out to us via email. Verizon said that the pre-sale was the largest single phone launch in its history, and the launch window officially lasted about 5 hours, from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m.

Thursday's sales figures will be much bigger.

Currently, all customers can pre-order on Verizon's website. But expect many long waiting Verizon customers to line up for the Apple device.

More than 600 Walmart stores will also carry the Verizon phone and accessories beginning Thursday. Best Buy will also carry the Verizon device at launch.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Sprint introduces dual screen smartphone

Sprint's big surprise at its news conference Monday night was not an iPhone, as some had predicted, but a rather Nintendo DS-looking Android smartphone called the Kyocera Echo.

It's got a dual 3.5 inch LCD touchscreens. That's right. Two.

Fully opened they measure nearly five inches diagonally.

The phone runs the Android OS and has a 1 gigahertz processor and a five megapixel camera with flash.

The device will be at the uber-popular $200 price point with two-year contract.

The dual screens allow you to view a YouTube video, for instance, while seeing other videos available, or have Facebook on one screen and email on another. This takes multi-tasking to a new level.

Or you can close one screen behind the other and get a traditional thin phone experience. Games are already being developed for the game that will take the DS approach, taking advantage of both screens during game play.

One caveat: the phone will come with an extra battery in the box. Guess we might not get much life running two screens at once. We'll have to see when the phone debuts in the spring. This is definitely one we hope to review.

Innovation in the smartphone industry, true innovation, is rarer and rarer these days and Sprint has come up with something completely different.


Monday, February 07, 2011

Cell phone cases that recharge the battery are worth a look

Nowadays, we use our cell phones for much more than making calls, and one of the biggest things is playing games.

Only a lot of heavy duty gaming can suck up your battery pretty quickly. That’s why, as a heavy cell phone gamer, I was excited to test three phone cases for iPhone 4 that actually can recharge the phone and extend your battery life. There are similar cases available for other cell phone models.

The first was the Case-Mate fuel lite. It’s $59.99 or $99.99 depending on the size battery you chose. Case Mate says the $100 version, with the bigger battery, can add up to nine additional hours of talk time to the iPhone 4 and up to seven additional hours of internet use and up to 10 additional hours of video playback. These kinds of times were consistent on all three cases.

I couldn’t go through the iPhone battery and the Case-Mate backup, even while watching movies, playing games, making long calls -- basically doing all the heavy lifting I could do.

The case is comfortable, soft and very much like the industry best Otterbox cases I’ve tried for this product. The Case-Mate is a big case and will add considerable size and bulk to the thin device (think Otterbox “Defender” series).

The Case-Mate, like the other two cases, allows you to use a mini USB cable instead of the Apple white charging cable. The mini-USB is a standard port used by lots of devices, so if you do need to charge up at the office, one of your co-workers is more likely to have that cable. Better, the Case-Mate passes iTunes and in-car iPod through the cable.

And lack of that feature was my only complaint about the Energizer "Energi To Go" cases. I tested one for the iPhone 3 and 3GS that was hard plastic and only covered the lower 2/3rds of the phone. It did the job but was not pretty at all. The iPhone 4 case ($69.99) was silicon, slim and absolutely elegant. It’s easy to toggle between using the battery or not, but it doesn’t pass through iTunes or in-car iPod through the mini-USB cable.

It’s a minor annoyance I guess, to slip the phone out of the case to mate with iTunes or listen to your songs in the car, but that’s why it’s No. 2 in this review.
The best charging case was the Mophie Juice Pack air ($79.95). It passes iTunes/iPod like the Case-Mate and it’s thin like the Energizer. It feels good in the hand.

A toggle button on the lower left, makes it easy to switch between charge modes, and you can press a button of the bottom to see how much charge is left in the case. I ran the iPhone battery to zero and the Mophie charged it back to 80 percent. When I drained the iPhone battery to 20 or 25 percent, the Mophie would get it back to 100 percent easily.

This is your gold medal winner from a group of three strong challengers. If I were a heavy iPhone user, I’d definitely grab one of these.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Report: Sprint to announce new Android phone Monday

A Bloomberg report says that Sprint will announce a new Android phone at its big N.Y. news conference Monday morning.

The new Kyocera phone, called Echo, will feature a full Qwerty keyboard and cost $249.99 with a two-year contract.

Magician David Blaine is expected to give a brief performance at the event.

There's also been rumors that Sprint might unveil an iPhone for its 4G network.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Verizon iPhone tops AT&T iPhone in reliability, not speed

I have not had a chance to get my grubby little hands on the Verizon iPhone, but some journalists have had the opportunity to test the VeriPhone for a few weeks and the results are pretty much the same:

AT&T is faster in download speeds for data (webpages, email) but Verizon is much more reliable. Some of the writers have even canceled their AT&T contracts, or not renewed them, and write that they are signing up with Verizon to get iPhone.

Beginning at 3 a.m. Thursday, existing Verizon customers can get iPhone after four years of waiting. The rest of the U.S. can get one Thursday Feb. 10, beginning at 7 a.m. Verizon stores will open early and allow customers to line up outside at 5 a.m. in North Carolina.

AT&T has bumped up its data packages and all but revealed it will match Verizon's best new iPhone feature -- the ability to make the phone a WiFi hotspot for up to five devices.

AT&T is also trumping the ability of its phones, which run a different operating standard than Verizon, that allows you to make voice calls and surf the web or download email at the same time. You can't do that on Verizon.

On Verizon, if you're using the HotSpot (or data at all) and a call comes in, you can choose to take it, but your data session disconnects. Not really cool if you have others using it at the same time. And as an iPhone owner for two years, I use voice and data quite a bit. But there are 90 million Verizon customers who have no idea what I'm talking about and won't care when they are holding the Apple device in their hand.

And the flip side of this is reliability. A lot of readers here are turned off by AT&T's coverage, saying they drop calls often and can't get service often. I think some of that is true.

I rarely have dropped calls, but I do have them.

Driving up Independence Boulevard, near Matthews? Drop.

Driving anywhere along 485 going from south Charlotte to north? Drop.

Sometimes between my bedroom and living room, in the middle of a really important call?


And there are weird places uptown and along Sardis Road or Harris Boulevard that, for me, you can just forget about it.

But AT&T is fast over 3G when you get it. A lot faster, the testers report, than Verizon.

...Decisions. Decisions.

I've gotten a lot of email recently from Verizon customers asking whether they should switch to iPhone or just get a Droid. I have AT&T folks asking if they should break a contract to switch.

I've never had Verizon service here, but have many friends who swear by it. I have used their phones in small towns and gyms and airports where my iPhone just wouldn't work. I believe the service is better. I also believe the iPhone is clearly superior to any Droid I've tested, and I've tested all the exotic Droids that have been released up to now.

Android packs a lot of specs and features. A new one coming out for AT&T will even power a laptop computer. I just can't figure out why I'd want my phone to morph into or power a laptop. I'd just use the laptop.

What makes iPhone superior and clearly so, is the user experience. Android is different on many devices you try and it's kind of techy. It can be hard to figure out and often, for many of my Droid-using friends, it's been buggy (reboot, reboot, reboot).

I can give my iPhone to my decidedly ungeeky 72-year-old Mom and she can navigate around.

It's easy to use and it works and there's a reason, way beyond the "look at me I have an iPhone" thing, that makes people so loyal to it and makes them line up before stores open. I don't see people lining up for the new Droids, many of which are killer devices that will be better than most anything before it.

But my iPhone advice is this: if you are in contract with AT&T, wait. I believe a new iPhone 5 will come out for both AT&T and Verizon in June. If I'm wrong, you'll stay in contract for a few more months which will bring down your early termination fee by then.

If you're AT&T and out of contract and don't mind that a new phone may come soon, go ahead and jump.

If you're Verizon existing, think the same as the out of contract AT&T guy.

Ultimately, I think it may be best to wait. If rumors are to be believed, iPhone 5 will use Verizon's super fast 4G network and allow voice and data at the same time -- and be faster than AT&T.

That's the girl, the gold watch -- and everything.

Can you wait a little longer?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

iPad only newspaper, The Daily, launches

Rupert Murdoch's latest media venture, an iPad-only newspaper called the Daily, has gone live in the App Store.

It's a digital news publication with original content created exclusively for iPad. It covers the world, USA Today style, with news, sports, pop culture, entertainment, games, tech, gossip, the works.

Pricing is $0.99 per week or $39.99 per year.

Murdoch promised, at Wednesday's New York news conference, to "bring the magic of newspapers to The Daily, and we must make the business of news gathering and editing viable again."

The Daily hopes to deliver on many promises: 360-degree photos, audio, video clips and easy sharing via Facebook, Twitter and email.

Sports fans will be able to add custom features for their favorite teams. Weather would be customizable by city. And your paper would never get wet.

I hope most newspapers at least offer some form of this going forward. I'll subscribe to this national paper, but I'd love to get local publications in this format as well.

There's a free two-week trial for the Daily, so you can try it out. Let me know what you think.

AT&T adds 2 GB to tethering plans ahead of Verizon iPhone

Today, AT&T announced it would finally support a wireless hotspot feature -- on the upcoming HTC Inspire 4G phone. The Android phone will be released Feb. 13.

The company will also change its current data allowance to 4GB for customers who pay $45 for data plus tethering.

Previously, the data was capped at 2GB.

So if nothing else, if you're a heavy data user, you can now get a 4GB plan for $45.

Of course, it's natural to assume this is a reaction to Verizon's upcoming iPhone. Thursday morning (2/3) at 3 a.m. current Verizon customers can start to order Apple's phone and everyone else can get one on Thursday Feb. 10.

Verizon stores will open at 7 a.m. and allow lines to form by 5 a.m. on the 10th. The Verizon iPhone will come with unlimited data plan for $30 and WiFi hotspot for an additional $20 per month. That hotspot will have a separate 2GB bucket of data. Go beyond that 2GB bucket and you'll incur an overage fee of $10 per gig.

AT&T stopped unlimited data for its iPhone/smartphone customers, allowing legacy owners to keep the plan but forcing new customers into one of two new options: $25 per month for 2 GB or $15 per month for 200 MB.

AT&T has forced its unlimited legacy customers into the 2GB plan in the past if they wanted to add tethering.

No word on whether AT&T will allow its iPhone customers to use the HotSpot fuctionality, which will be included in the next Apple software update. But iPhone owners who want to tether their device to a single other device could adopt the new plan.

The hotspot feature would theoretically allow multiple devices to get onto the internet with the phone.

iPhone lands on Verizon at 3 a.m.

Tomorrow morning (Feb. 3) at 3 a.m., Verizon customers will be able to preorder the iPhone 4. This is for existing customers only. The general public can get one on Thursday, Feb. 10.

If you want to get a Verizon iPhone and are leaving another carrier or starting fresh, stores will open throughout the state on Feb. 10 at 7 a.m. Lines cannot form until 5 a.m.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Madden videogame predicts Super Steelers

Every year, Electronic Arts uses its Madden football game simulation to predict the winner of the Super Bowl.

Don't laugh. A preseason dry run predicted the Packers to reach Sunday's game and the game has correctly predicted six of the past Super Bowl champs with surprising accuracy (see below).

This year, Madden says the Steelers win a record seventh Super Bowl ring. A simulation of Sunday's game shows a 24-20 Steelers win with Pittsburgh scoring the game-winning points with 80 seconds left.

This year's Super Bowl simulation was done using computer artificial intelligence powered by real-life data from each team to determine player ratings, and includes variances, such as injuries, to predict the outcome. Six out of the last seven Super Bowl champions have been accurately predicted by Madden NFL. Previous results include:

Super Bowl XXXVIII – Patriots 23, Panthers 20
Actual Score: Patriots 32, Panthers 29
Super Bowl XXXIX – Patriots 47, Eagles 31
Actual score: Patriots 24, Eagles 21
Super Bowl XL – Steelers 24, Seahawks 19
Actual score: Steelers 21, Seahawks 10
Super Bowl XLI – Colts 38, Bears 27
Actual score: Colts 29, Bears 17
Super Bowl XLIII – Steelers 28, Cardinals 24
Actual score: Steelers 27, Cardinals 23
Super Bowl XLIV – Saints 35, Colts 31
Actual score: Saints 31, Colts 17